(HEADLINE HEALTH) As a new flu season arrives and you consider whether or not to get this year’s flu shot, it can be useful to review the experience of recent annual cycles.
Today Headline Health brings readers highlights of a 2014 story that still lingers today – the notion that “the CDC has admitted that the flu vaccine does not work.”
The question came up in the Comments section of yesterday’s story, Can Employers Require the Flu Shot?
The flu vaccine is a complex issue, based on varying views of both the science and of the social implications of government solutions to public health issues.
The topic is made more complex by the fact that viruses are moving targets – like all other lifeforms, they adapt and evolve in order to survive.
Headline Health brings you information you can use on this and a broad range of topics to help you make better decisions for yourself and your family.
No, the CDC did not just “admit” that this year’s flu vaccine doesn’t work
(David Gorski, Science-Based Medicine, December 7, 2104) You may have seen news stories with headlines like:
- “CDC Warning: Flu Viruses Mutate and Evade Current Vaccine”
- “Flu vaccine protects against wrong strain, US health officials warn“
- “Flu shots may not be good match for 2014-15 virus, CDC says“
This year, apparently, the flu vaccine isn’t as effective as health officials and physicians would like. How could this have happened?
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies considerably from year to year. The reason is simple. There are many strains of influenza, and the vaccine generally only covers a handful of strains.
Every year the World Health Organization, in collaboration with the CDC and other health organizations, has to make an educated guess which strains of influenza will be circulating the following winter.
Many months’ lead time is required for vaccine manufacturers to develop and test the new formulations and then to ramp up manufacturing capabilities and distribute the vaccine.
Generally, the WHO chooses the three strains it deems most likely to cause significant human suffering and death in the coming flu season.
Predicting months in advance which strains will be circulating the following season is a dicey proposition. When the WHO gets it right, the flu vaccine is maximally effective. When it doesn’t, the vaccine is not as effective as we would like.
This year’s flu vaccine might well be suboptimal. Unfortunately, until there is a universal vaccine that targets the parts of the virus that don’t mutate so rapidly, the flu vaccine will always be suboptimal.
Of course, companies and scientists are frantically working on just such a vaccine. If it weren’t so incredibly hard to do, they would have produced one already. In the meantime the flu vaccine, as imperfect as it is, is the best we have.